Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Kent Cross Country League 2017: Somerhill School

The Somerhill Schools are based at Somerhill House in Tonbridge, Kent. The house is a Grade I listed Jacobean Mansion, and was built between 1611-1613. It sits atop the highest point of the 150 acres of stunning parkland.


This venue was used for race 2 of the 2017-18 season. The weather had been fairly dry and underfoot was a mixture of grass, very dry dirt and some slightly softer sections - a lot of people wore spikes but I found trail shoes were fine.

The course used this season was, I think, slightly different to previous years and featured 3 laps. The first was slightly shorter than the second and third and made the total distance run up to 10km. The profile of the course can be described as hilly with a combination of long shallow inclines and some short, sharper ones.

the grounds / race shot (thanks to prem)

The course itself feels like quite a permanent fixture of the grounds and I have seen that Somerhill hosts quite a lot of different cross-country events. It's a really enjoyable (assuming punishing yourself in this way can be described as enjoyable) course to run.

My race was reasonable and I finished ten places higher than I had in the season opener. I was still way down the field as expected, but then again I'm only running about 20km per week in training so it's not too bad considering that.

another race shot (thanks again to prem) / a short sharp incline on the course


Kent Cross Country League 2017: Stanhill Farm

The first fixture of the Kent Cross Country League (KXCL) 2017 was at Stanhill Farm, Wilmington and hosted by my running club, Dartford Harriers. The farm covers an area of 150 acres and by cross country standards is almost completely flat.

The venue has an area set aside for parking near the main entrance and a charge of £1 was levied. If the car park fills up, there are some side streets within a kilometre of the venue which could be used as an alternative.

The team areas were all set up next to the car park and some portaloos had also been installed for the purpose of the event. I was issued with my number bib and this was to be re-used for each of the four races in the series.

After watching some of the youngsters running in their events, it was time for the senior and veteran races to begin. The women were first, but I didn't see much of this race as I was largely doing my final preparations (visit the toilet, warm up, etc..) for my race.

Underfoot the ground was very dry and firm so I decided to run in my trail shoes - not everybody did the same - some wore spikes while others opted for standard road shoes. If it has been softer underfoot I would gone for spikes, but overall I think trail shoes were the right choice.

Anyway, the mens race started at 14:45 and after a quick team photo, I mingled into the middle of the pack to await the starter's gun. From where I was positioned the start was not quite as swift as I would have expected and I found myself locked into a slower-than-desired starting pace.

The course is run on the farmer's tracks around the edge of the fields and there is a slight uphill slope from the start area towards the back end of the course. Almost all of the corners are 90 degree turns. The men's race covers a total distance of 9.8km and involves completing four laps with first being shorter than the second, third and fourth.

So with my slowish start, I found myself largely catching and overtaking people as I progressed through the race. With the four laps done, the course breaks off from the main loop for a 250 metre dash to the finish line.

As for performance, this league attracts the top county runners so I knew I would be finishing down in the second half of the field, and that's exactly where I was. The official results were available shortly after the race and I had finished in position 179 out of 294 in an official time of 42:21.

In the post-race discussions the general feeling was that I was far too gentlemanly at the start and should have got as close to the front as possible in order to avoid losing the time and positions in the crowd at the beginning.

Results: Official KXCL results page (senior mens race)
GPS data: KXCL Stanhill Farm 2017
Video: Stanhill Farm relive course fly-by
Video: KXCL Stanhill Farm 2017 posted by Mark Hookway

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Luton Wardown parkrun

Luton is a town in the ceremonial county of Bedfordshire with a population of around 216,000 people. Believed to have been founded by the Anglo-Saxons during the 6th century, over the years it has been recorded as Lointone and Lintone, before moving on to be called Leueton until finally settling with its current name.

For many years the town was famous for hat making, and it has also been home to the Vauxhall Motors car company since 1905. In the centre of town you'll find the University of Bedfordshire campus, and to the east is Luton International Airport. Just to the north of the town centre is 'the jewel in the crown' of Luton's seven district parks - Wardown Park.

wardown park

The land that now forms the park was formerly part of the grounds of a country residence called Bramington Shott. The estate changed hands a few times before the current house was built (1877) and around 1893, the estate was renamed Wardown. When the house and 11 acres of grounds went up for sale in 1903, it did not sell.

However, in 1904, Luton Council purchased the estate and after some extensive landscaping it opened to the public as Wardown Park. The house suffered from a period of neglect followed by short term use as a military convalescent hospital and council offices / tea room. However in 1931 it finally became home to Luton's first museum, which exists to this day.

luton wardown parkrun

On 18 April 2015, the park became home to Luton Wardown parkrun. The free, 5km event takes place on Saturday mornings at 9am. I visited the venue on 18 November 2017 and took part in event 134 which attracted a total of 371 participants which was the event's second ever highest attendance to date. The current average attendance would be somewhere around the 300 mark.

I travelled by car and parked in the modest-sized, free, car park adjacent to the house via the entrance on New Bedford Road [A6]. There is a second onsite car park which is accessed via Old Bedford Road. Luton has a mainline train station which is in the centre of town - it's not in the immediate vicinity of the park, but should be easily run/walkable from the station.

wardown park

For those who cycle, I spotted some cycle racks adjacent to Wardown House. Toilet facilities are available for use in the adjacent Luton Town and Indians Cricket Club, but please note that the groundsman does not open this facility until 8.30am. I'm told there are some additional toilets in the park, but I didn't check them out.

So.. Once in the park, you'll need to head towards the centre/southern area of the park to find the meeting area and start point. It is right outside the old boathouse, but a more distinctive feature to head for is the pedestrian suspension bridge which spans the park's main feature - the lake. The lake was formed by widening the River Lea which runs through the park.

the grassy section

The run briefings take place outside the boathouse and the participants are then ushered a bit further south to the start point which is on the western side of the lake. The parkrun itself takes place over three-and-a-bit laps of the park.

The course is largely flat but the northern end of the course does have a bit of an incline to negotiate. Underfoot is mostly tarmac but there is a short stretch on grass that is encountered 4 times (the grass section is also part of the incline and is run 4 times due to it being part of the 'and-a-bit' part of the course).

around the house

The start line is on a spur which joins the main loop upon reaching the suspension bridge after about 150 metres. The main loop is run in a clockwise direction and heads along the edge of the lake before heading onto the grassy section which goes up towards the house.

There's a loop through the ornamental gardens which leads participants to Pete's corner - I had a chat to Pete after the run and he had just celebrated reaching his 100 volunteer milestone.

pete's corner / daisy chain wall

Another of the park's features can be seen once past Pete's corner - this is the Daisy Chain Wall. It is thought to have been constructed in around 1905 and takes its name from the distinctive decorative brick pattern that runs the length of the wall.

From here the course simply follows the paths through the eastern side of the park until crossing the lake via the bridge at the southern tip of the course (not the suspension bridge).

back along the lake / water fountain

Back on the western side of the lake, the participants head past the refurbished Edwardian drinking fountain and follow the paths until passing behind the boathouse and then reaching the start of the loop next to the suspension bridge. This loop is followed three full times. After three times, the 'and-a-bit' is then run which features a final push up the grass incline and the finish line is found just next to the house.

With barcodes scanned, it is then time to head into the cricket club for some refreshments. Of course, if you have just set a new personal best you can have a good old ring on the PB Bell, which is great fun and you'll probably get a cheer and round of applause from the rest of the gathered crowd of finishers and volunteers.

end of lap / finish / pb bell

As always, I recorded the run using my GPS watch and you can see the course in more detail by having a look at my data on Strava or by watching the course flyby video that I created with the relive app on my phone. The full results were processed and published shortly afterwards.

Note: the paths aren't terribly wide and laps 2 and 3 do feature quite a bit of congestion and lapping - however I found everyone to be very considerate in using the available space sensibly. Anyway, I really enjoyed my visit to Luton Wardown parkrun, so a big thanks to everyone involved in putting on the event for having me.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Kent Fitness League 2017/18: Swanley Park

Following my disastrous start to the 2017-18 Kent Fitness League season, I headed over to Swanley Park to take part in the second race of the series, hoping that I'd have a better race without a repeat of the stomach issues that ruined the season opener at Knole Park.

I started the race on tired legs that had already run a parkrun and raced the Foots Cray Meadows Kent Cross Country League race the day before. The course at Swanley was the same as it was the season before, you can read about it here, so I won't go into great detail about it.

A year beforehand, I had got a brilliant start and completed the course without encountering any hold-ups. This time around, I found myself pinned into the middle of the pack at the start and encountered a great deal of congestion throughout the first few kilometres.

This was topped off by coming to a dead stand still as the pack filtered through a narrow pinch point just over a mile into the race. This poor start meant that I was already way off where I would have expected to be (probably 40 seconds adrift after the first two kilometres).

The rest of the race consisted mostly of reeling people in and overtaking them (which was fun), but no matter how hard I pushed there was no way for me to regain the ground I had lost early on. I finally crossed the line in 136th position in a time of 38.22, which was 59 seconds slower than a year earlier.

A change I did make for this race was that I wore my trail shoes instead of my spikes, which I had regretted wearing during 2016's race. Swanley Park had not suffered much with the recent rain and the grass/dirt areas were generally pretty firm. I was much happier in my trail shoes, so was happy with that decision.

My Results:

  • Position: 136 out of 566
  • Gender position: 126 out of 379
  • Time: 38.22


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Finsbury parkrun

Finsbury Park is an area within the London Borough of Haringey, which has a culturally diverse population of around 14,500 people. Not to be confused with Finsbury, which is a few miles down the road, the central part of the area consists of the large bus, rail and tube interchange, also called Finsbury Park which makes travelling to this parkrun very simple.

A couple of minutes walk from the station is one of London's magnificent Victorian parks - Finsbury Park. I first visited this venue back in November 2012 and remember it looking splendid as its autumn colours were coming through, so when I went back in 2017, I was pleased that it was the exact same time of year.

finsbury park

It occupies land that was once part of the Manor of Brownswood, and Hornsey Wood, which was gradually cut back to be used as grazing land. The area was frequented by Londoners looking to escape the smoke in the city, and by the mid-19th century public demand lead to it formally becoming a park. Designed by Frederick Manable, the park, which is now Grade II Listed, was formally opened in 1869 and covers an area of 110, gently undulating acres.

Over the years, the park has hosted many musical performances including Jimi Hendrix, Morrissey, Madness, Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols, Pulp, Oasis, Rage Against the Machine, and The Stone Roses. Sadly, like many other public parks, a lack of funding during the late 20th century lead to it falling into a state of disrepair. However, in 2003, £3.4 million Heritage Lottery Fund money was awarded for the restoration and improvement of the park.

briefing / start area

On 31 October 2009, Finsbury parkrun brought the total number of world-wide parkrun events to twenty-three (it is the 23rd oldest event still active according to the parkrun wiki). Back in those days the number of participants was much lower and it wasn't until January 2011 that an event was attended by over 100 people. Growth over the years has been slow and steady, and it is now attended by over 300 people every week.

The meeting point for the parkrun is at the Finsbury Park Cafe which is on the western side of the park just next to the lake where boats are available for hire. There are also a couple of playgrounds here and cyclists can use the bike racks or one of the fences to secure their bikes. The cafe building also contains the toilets - a sign on the wall states that they open at 9am, but they have been open earlier than that on both of the occasions I have visited.

the wide perimeter road

After a new-runners briefing outside the cafe, the whole show moves to the closed road that runs around the perimeter of the park for the main briefing. The road is very wide and has ample space for hundreds of participants. While the road is mostly closed to vehicles, it does give cyclists a bit of relief from the adjacent busy roads, so keep your eyes out for them at the start and around the course. The course is just under two laps, all on tarmac and it undulates.

The zebra crossing on the road is used as a start line and at 9am-ish everyone heads off for their weekly 5k around the park. The opening section is slightly downhill and meanders past the tennis court facilities before reaching the southern tip of the park. The course continues to follow the main road with a tight left-hand turn which leads into a long, but gentle incline all the way to the most easterly point of the course.

perimeter path cont..

It levels out for a bit before heading back downhill. Just as the course reaches its northern tip, the natural running line transfers from the road onto the pavement. Watch out here because the camber is quiet severe and it would be easy to trip - the best point aim for to avoid the camber/kerb is where the pavement is lowered for a zebra crossing.

To the runner's right hand side flows the New River which is a man made waterway, opened in 1613 to supply London with fresh drinking water from Hertfordshire. On the other side of the river are softball and baseball fields which are home to the London Mets Baseball Team.

inner park

The latter stages of the lap see the course heading into the park before returning to the perimeter road a couple of times - first of all there is a path with fairly steep incline to negotiate, this is followed by the second, flatter one which goes deeper into the centre of the park by following the northern border of the lake as it passes the Finsbury Park Athletics stadium, which is also home of London Blitz American Football Club.

First time around, the course leads all the way back to the start, but second time around the finish is found on the grass just to the side of the path. After the run, barcodes are scanned next to the finish line and the cafe is open for refreshments.

finish area / me with bill sutherland (commonwealth games 1970, 20 mile walk bronze medalist)

I didn't stay for a drink because I had to rush off to work, so headed straight off around the course in reverse for a cool down where I bumped into the 1970 Commonwealth Games, 20 Mile Race Walk bronze medalist Bill Sutherland, before heading back across the road to take the tube back to Westminster (totally dripping wet from the heavy rain). The results were processed shortly after and 360 people took part in event 396. It was a course PB for me so that was a nice bonus.

I recorded the course data on my Garmin and it can be viewed on Strava, here: Finsbury parkrun #396 GPS data. I also used that data to create a course fly-by with the Relive app, and that can be viewed here: Finsbury parkrun course fly-by video.

Related links:

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